10 things you should know about the crisis in Iraq

By Yousef K.B.

The current crisis in Iraq has been 11 years in the making and it is the legacy of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The arrogance, self-delusion, paternalism, and poorly informed nature of American policy makers, military officials, and pseudo intellectual cannot be understated. They want to have us believe that everything that occurs in Iraq is due to the incapacity of the Iraqi government and political elite, all of which is rooted in their cultural deficiencies. Sen. John McCain and others talk as if the problem is the withdrawal of Americans.  They argue that if only we allowed the American mission to succeed we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Events in Iraq are fast moving. Rather than try to explain exactly what is happening on the ground, I put forward 10 points that should be considered in any analysis of Iraq. Continue reading

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A brief reflection after completing “The Wire”

By Mohammad T.

Is injustice inevitable? Is structure indestructible?

In my pessimistic moments, I fear that my parents were right all along: don’t worry about that goodie stuff, they control too much and are too powerful; just take yours and be happy with what you have. You may accuse them of being too simple, or too Cold War, or maybe even conspiratorial. But it’s hard sometimes to disagree with them.

I just finished watching the last episode of ‘The Wire’, and I’ve come away surprised by my own reaction to the series. Like every character in this incredibly well-crafted, incredibly powerful series, I thought I would leave its world of make-believe Baltimore profoundly upset at the recycled detritus of contemporary American life — so much so that it would push me away from the dirty and inglorious work of invisible righteousness that I see among my many radical colleagues and friends, working hard every day to keep their spirit from pining away. Why keep at it, I should have thought? I will end, but the system survives. It creates many more of them, but sometimes it will malfunction and create a few of me. Why bother, no? I can snatch a few shiny trinkets from that same system, stay quiet, and live comfortably knowing that I took mine.

The cast of characters of this tragedy.

That’s probably what I should have thought, after completing this last episode. But I am reminded what the series’ creator, David Simon, in response to the many commentators ruffled at the apparent cynicism of the series: “It’s a love letter to Baltimore,” he said. So here’s to hoping that, with the support of my friends and family, that I don’t become so cynical as to think I’m above putting, as a wise man once urged, my body “upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, and upon all the apparatus of that machine.” Here’s to hoping that I can, after a long wait, reflect upon my work as a kind of broken love letter.

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Pilgrims of a new Arab order

By Mohammad T.

Today, my parents are leaving to Saudi Arabia for a 10-day trip on the hajj, the obligatory Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This will be their third (and likely final) hajj. In the course of their three trips — all within the past 10 years — they will have witnessed the transformation of the pilgrimage from an awe-inspiring religious journey to a somewhat-less-inspiring Vegas-esque festival of greed and capitalism.

The last time they visited, they performed the tawaf (the circumambulation of the ka’aba, Islam’s holiest site) under the watchful gaze not just of God, but of the skeleton of Abraj al-Bait. It was under construction then, but is now completed and magnificent. Constructed on the site of the now-demolished Ajyad Fortress — an Ottoman castle built in 1781 to protect the historic Islamic site from vandals — the Abraj al-Bait is now the third-tallest building in the world. With the globe’s largest clock face, it sits in the heart of a massive complex of seven towers, and features within its bowels a five-star hotel operated by Canadian mega-hotel firm Fairmont and a 20-story luxury mall. Continue reading

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The idiot’s guide to internet privacy (or 6 must-have tools for all web users)

internet-suveillance

By Mohammad T.

Recent revelations by Edward Snowden concerning the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance dragnet have put refocused the public’s attention to the privacy pitfalls of casual internet use. Coupled with near daily news stories about internet security systems being compromised, and it’s enough for a lay internet user to be frazzled into submission. Fear not — I decided together a handy guide for folks who want to push back against the war being waged against user’s privacy and anonymity. What you’ll find here is a compilation of tools and services that will help ensure, as much as is currently possibly, a modicum of anonymity and security in a treacherous world of tracking, advertising, data retention, and surveillance. I personally use all of these, and in my humble awesome opinion, they are all, well, awesome.

There’s much more out there to what I’ve listed below, but this will get you started if you’re new to this world. I’ve included a couple links below which you can follow to truly update your nerd-dom if you’d like; otherwise, we’ll start here for now.

Of course, none of this stuff is intended to prevent government surveillance of the type we’ve read about from the NSA — nor could it, as we’ve found out from Lavabit. It will help, however, push back against the massive tracking and surveillance apparatus erected by the private sector that monetizes everyday individuals’ behaviors online.

With that brief introduction, let’s get to it. Continue reading

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In Brief: Still doubt that Egypt didn’t have a reactionary coup?

By Yousef K.B. 

The Egyptian army chief called for country wide protests to come and out and “give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism.” Then Tamarod, the folks who supposedly mobilized the June 30th protests, announced “We call on the Egyptian people to rally in squares on Friday to officially demand the trial of [former President] Mohamed Morsi and support [the] armed forces in its coming war against terrorism,” They have called for a “cleansing” of Egypt.

If you were still pondering about the situation in Egypt, let me put your mind to rest: it was a brilliant and sophisticated coup. It was a counter-rebellion against the January 25th movement that drove out Mubarak. Regardless of opinion on Morsi, these are old Mubarak era elites and the “deep state” taking control once again. This is no revolution, it is a passive revolution, where old elites neutralize and/or co-opt revolutionary leaders and sentiments to retain their control. It is a political reform, that retains the social formation, but with renewed legitimacy and hegemony.

The liberal and leftists supporting this are either intentionally supporting the military and the old elites (making them culpable), or are clue-less as to how politics functions (making them naive).

Are secular, liberal, and “leftists” so diluted by their reactionary itch of the hint of anything smelling like “Islamism” or “Islam” that they’re willing to throw their lot with the likes of the Egyptian military?

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How did the situation in Egypt get to this point?

By Yousef K.B. 

On January 25th 2011 an unprecedented mass movement in the making for some time in Egypt, erupted in Tahrir Square. Within 18 memorable days this protest movement removed Hosni Mubarak, the long time dictator of Egypt from office. But it was not the people in Tahrir Square that replaced Mubarak. On February 11,2011 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), aka the Egyptian military, took over the reign of power. The military attempted to demobilize the protests by threatening protestors of economic calamity if they didn’t go back to work, by breaking up strikes, beating protestors, and imprisoning a countless number – all while professing to be the “guardian of the nation.”

Mubarak was ousted from power and taken to court to symbolically show the end of an era, but the state that governed under Mubarak was still in place. It is doubtful that the Egyptian military wanted to rule Egypt publicly, because the Egyptian population would not have accepted that. But the military wanted to control the outcome of the political process to ensure its position both politically and economically remains intact. Continue reading

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On double standards.

It seems this whole NSA surveillance episode has brought out the double standard in all us. I’ve compiled three of my favorites – what are yours?

Consider this headline, from Design & Trend:

Google Thwarts Iranian Phishing Attacks Before Election

Google announced on Thursday that it had detected and thwarted thousands phishing attacks that had been aimed at the email accounts of Iranian users ahead of that country’s June 14th presidential election.

According to an online statement, Google said it had found a “significant jump” in Iran’s overall volume of phishing activity in the past few weeks. With the election only a day away, the search engine giant felt that the attacks were “politically motivated”.

Let me know when Google thwarts American spying attacks. I’ll be waiting.

Here’s another; how deliciously ironic is this?

Where’s Hillary Clinton when you need her?

And, lastly, it’s always great to appreciate the racial side of things, as this column posted recently on Salon shows us:

Suddenly, white people care about privacy incursions

For many, government surveillance has been a regular part of life, especially since 9/11. So, why the outrage now?

In short, I love irony, particularly when it comes and smacks you in the face.

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